Episode 5 - This Place is Death
20 December 2009
Present: Sun pulls a gun on Ben but he tells her that Jin is still alive. Sayid and Kate leave but Ben drives Sun and Jack to the church. Ben tells them that he has gone to great lengths to protect them all. They meet Desmond there and Eloise says they need to get started.
Flashback: Jin is freaked out to realise it is 1988 and the French group are soon attacked by the smoke monster. Montand loses his arm as the monster drags him beneath a Temple. The rest of the party except Rousseau follow and the flash comes. Jin now finds Rousseau killing her group claiming that they are not themselves anymore. Robert says that the smoke monster defends the temple and tries to shoot her. His gun isn’t loaded and she kills him. Time jumps again and Jin finds Sawyer. The flashes start happening closer together and Charlotte collapses unable to continue. She tells Jin not to bring Sun back here. She then tells Daniel that she was born on the island and thinks he told her not to come back here. Locke heads down the well promising Jin that he won’t bring Sun back. He falls down the well hurting his leg once more as time flashes. Christian Shepherd is there to tell him what to do and confirm that he will need to die. Locke pushes the wheel and leaves the island.
The Good: It was difficult to imagine an episode more intense and fast paced than the season opener, but this runs it close and in most other ways surpasses it.
In the previous episode you got a sense that the producers were trying to have a Kate episode off the island and a Sawyer one on it. They weren’t focussed enough to make that resonate and they don’t manage it in this episode either. But for at least half the episode they manage to create a strong connection between Jin’s actions on the island and Sun’s off it. That synergy creates an emotional resonance which connects their two stories in a gripping way.
As I speculated Jin makes for an ideal central character for the first twenty minutes here. The language barrier means he can not tell Rousseau why he is so freaked out by her appearance and he can’t understand the conversations which have great significance for us. The smoke monster attack comes eight minutes into the episode and the tension doesn’t relent from then on. Jin advises Rousseau not to follow her crew down the hole and his genuine concern for her safety may well have been responsible for her subsequent killing spree (see The Unknown). Jin provides a good voice for the audience as he grills Locke over why he is so certain of his plan and wisely asks why Sun would even want to come back to this “bad place.” Jin’s desire to keep his family safe and his faith in Locke’s word are very true to his deeply honourable character.
Meanwhile Sun hasn’t really turned to the dark side; she has more conventional revenge on her mind. The choice of such a cute baby to play Ji Yeon immediately signals to the audience that Sun is far from a cold murderer and that she is doubting her own murderous intentions. But Sun is ruthless in a way other characters aren’t and it is very satisfying to see her stick a gun in Ben’s face and keep asking questions until she is satisfied. Ever thought of doing that Jack? Like an old style flashback we follow Sun and Ben in the present to see how he knows Jin is still alive. And in the past we get the answer as he gives Locke his wedding ring.
The reason that the Kwon flashback isn’t the emotional core of the episode is that Locke and Charlotte go through major moments which when coupled with Jin and Sun’s experiences make this feel like a mini-season finale. The sense of genuine consequence and tension is driven home both in the present and the past. Ben’s angry reaction to Jack and Sun threatening him is very rewarding. So often Ben remains passive not telling anyone the truth and making his true feelings difficult to read. But he finally snaps and definitely implies that he has been protecting the Oceanic Six from Widmore or other forces who would want to get at them. It’s very pleasing to see Ben make a case for himself at last instead of relying on cryptic statements. The emotion he shows also gives Jack and Sun a hint of how seriously he is taking their need to reach Hawking and get back to the island.
Meanwhile on the island the flashes come quicker and quicker as do the characters nose bleeds. This desperate situation makes it easier to believe that they would invest their hopes in Locke even though he stubbornly refuses to tell them how he knows that he has to leave the island. The sense of deadly consequence is fully realised as Charlotte passes away. Her revelations to Daniel add more plot strands to what we can imagine is going to happen next (see below). Clearly if the island keeps jumping through time once Locke has gone, the onus will be on Daniel to find another solution to save them all.
Locke then takes centre stage once more as he drops painfully to the ground injuring his leg for the hundredth time. But once more it makes him humble, lying at the feet of Christian Shepherd who comes to confirm that Locke’s faith in the island is still well justified. Christian interestingly tells Locke that he was meant to move the island and not Ben. His dismissive statement about Ben: “Since when did listening to him get you anywhere worth a damn?” definitely feeds into the theories that Ben isn’t the true leader of the Others or at least he had become corrupted. That seems to be why Richard was willing to go behind his back (319) and perhaps why Jacob asked Locke for help (320). Christian also confirms to Locke that he will have to die: “I suppose that’s why they call it a sacrifice.” It’s a word which has haunted Locke since Boone died (125, 221, 303) and now it seems he is the sacrifice which the island demands.
Part of what makes this episode so intense for hardcore fans is the number of plot strands which begin to get pieced together. The smoke monster drags Montand down a hole as it once attempted to do to Locke (124). Danielle called the smoke monster a defence system (123) and we now see Robert explaining that to her. He claims it is there to protect the temple. The temple is where Ben insisted Richard take the Others to to escape Keamy and his men (322). It now appears that Robert and company didn’t develop the “sickness” from the way they entered the island as Minkowski did (405). But instead it seems they have been possessed by something within the temple which makes Robert ready to kill Rousseau and his own child with her. So it seems Rousseau wasn’t crazy after all. She calls Jin a carrier (109) and we still don’t know exactly why.
Then there is Charlotte who explains that she grew up on the island as part of the Dharma Initiative (as Ben did, 320). She then left with her mother and doesn’t remember who her father is (which will lead to much speculation). She has spent her life searching for the island, which explains her excitement at finding a Dharma collar on a dead polar bear (402). She then remembers Daniel telling her as a child not to come back to the island. We can assume she suddenly remembers who it was because her mind is jumping through time as Desmond’s did (405 again). And we can assume that Daniel will now visit her when the island jumps into the Dharma Initiative era. Which of course should explain why he is in the Orchid looking for the frozen donkey wheel in the season premiere.
Finally the well leading to the frozen donkey wheel helps explain the bizarre way Ben accessed it in There's No Place Like Home (414). Then it seemed so odd that he blew a hole in a Dharma booth and walked down into a cold room with a strange wheel. Now we can understand better how the Others knew where it was and thus how Ben could access it. Many have complained that Lost doesn’t answer its own questions, but this episode provides many answers and those with good memories will be especially satisfied.
Ok one final point which is to note some of the more pleasing and fun moments which the writers somehow managed to sneak in amongst the relentless tension. Sawyer and Jin hugging was nice to see. Later Sawyer moans “You just had to say something” after Juliet expresses amazement that they found the Orchid in the right time period only for a flash to come immediately. Even better was Ben’s dry reply to Sun asking him why it was taking more than thirty minutes to reach the church, “I didn’t account for traffic.”
The Bad: Ok ok, broken record time. If Sun and Jin had remained the focus of this episode, especially if Jin had remained alone, I still believe this episode could have had a greater focus. I am not seriously complaining about this because this was a terrific, tension filled, dramatic story, full of good character moments and revelations. But could an episode with a confused Jin jumping through time while Sun was tortured by the emotions of discovering he was still alive have been even better? I would have to say yes.
I am still unsure why Sun blames Ben for Jin’s death. We know that he killed Keamy (414) ensuring the boat would blow up but how does she know that? Perhaps she just blames him because Keamy and company were there to capture him in the first place? Perhaps Locke told her what happened?
After Eloise exclaimed “God help us all” at the suggestion that Ben might not be able to get all of the survivors back to the island in seventy two hours, it seems flippant for her to say that the three who have turned up “will have to do.” Either there are grave consequences or there aren’t right? Otherwise she would have said “God help us all, unless you can get a few of them and then we can fudge it.”
In fact if everything was so desperate why didn’t Ben make more of a plea for Kate and Sayid to stay? Why doesn’t he just hire goons to kidnap Kate if she is being uncooperative? Again that “God help us all” is starting to sound very hollow.
The dialogue between Charlotte and Daniel (as she dies) is pretty clunky. As she confesses her deep secrets to him he strangely asks “Why are you telling me this?” She is scared she is going to die man, isn’t that a time when people share stuff like this? And as he loves her shouldn’t he be grateful she is opening up? She continues with her story about a scary man who warned her not to come back and he again oddly says “I don’t understand” while she is in the middle of explaining it. It came across as very needless and uncharacteristic prodding on his part.
The Unknown: What happened to Rousseau’s crew when they went down that tunnel? What changed them? What is a carrier? Why was the donkey wheel “broken”? Was it because Ben wasn’t supposed to activate it? How did Charlotte know about the well? Why does she tell Jin that “This place is death” and urge him not to bring Sun back? Is there another force which works “against” the island which led Walt to tell Locke not to open the hatch (122) or Claire to tell Kate not to bring Aaron back to the island (414)? How does Eloise Hawking know so much about the island?
Again the pre-destination paradox still bothers me. It would seem Daniel only warns a young Charlotte not to return to the island because she tells him that that’s what he does. And indeed it shouldn’t have happened to her until now when by doing it, Daniel will change the past. I await further explanation.
Best Moment: How can you choose? I will go for Jin watching Robert slowly talk Rousseau out of killing him. For a moment he seems so reasonable and you are reminded of the expression on Sayid’s face when he suspected that Rousseau had gone insane and killed her crew for no good reason (109). Then once she lowers her guard he raises his gun quickly and shoots her. But she had removed the firing pin, just as she told Sayid she had. Then she shoots him. To make something you know is going to happen still seem dramatic, especially four seasons after hearing about it is what makes this show so good.
The Bottom Line: You doubt Lost at your peril. And after complaining of a lack of emotional resonance, this episode delivers it in spades. You just can’t look away from the screen for a second as the action, revelations and drama come flying at you picking up plot strands from all five seasons and weaving them together. A terrific episode which leaves the character in a situation where you have no idea what they will all do next. But you can’t wait to find out.
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